Thee Midniters

During the 1960s, regional pop bands commonly filled their sets with doo-wop and garage rock, with R&B and bouncing soul — all of it as conversant with Elvis as with the Beatles or James Brown. In that musically expansive decade, any decent bar band spoke a language known far and wide simply as “rock and roll.” Only the dialect changed from place to place. In England, for instance, the Animals emphasized the blues. In the Great Northwest, bands such as the Sonics cranked the guitars. In Texas, they added twang to the mix, creating an entire career for Sir Douglas Sahm. Los Angeles had Thee Midniters.

Very nearly as good as any band of the era, these Latino rock and rollers recorded the original “Land of a Thousand Dances,” and in 1965, they “bubbled under” on the pop charts with the instrumental hit “Whittier Blvd.” (an east-L.A. reworking of the Stones’ Chess Records homage “2120 South Michigan Avenue”). They recorded politically evocative numbers like their own “Chicano Power” and Oscar Brown’s “Brother Where Are You?” (Now there are many who will say it’s true that brothers are we all/Yet it seems there are very few that will answer a brother’s call). And on “Sad Girl” and “Dreaming Casually,” lead singer Little Willie G. led the band through some of the dreamiest slow-dance numbers ever released.

In a sense, Thee Midniters were Los Lobos two decades before the fact, particularly the Los Lobos of the … And a Time to Dance EP. (Indeed, Lobos frontman David Hidalgo produced Making Up for Lost Time for Willie G. in 2000.) Which is just to say that Thee Midniters Greatest is great, even essential, rock and roll.

Categories: Music